Permanent Footprints in the Sand

My mother used to cite an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We entrepreneurs should heed Mom’s advice. One of the most challenging aspects of building a business is interacting with our team members. There are people who are extremely committed and dedicated. Others are sleepwalking through the day for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck. And there are many more who are somewhere in between.

As frustrating as it may be at times, I’ve come to realize that the “honey” approach is definitely the most productive. Helping build people up is much more gratifying and yields far better results, than tearing them down. Let’s focus for just a moment on the notion of “tearing them down.” It’s obvious that a boss who yells, screams and belittles his employees is “tearing them down.” But there are also other behaviors that fall into this category even though they are less apparent. For example, triangulating about another person can be just as destructive as making derogatory remarks to their face. Triangulation in this context, means talking with someone in a negative manner about another person. This does nothing to advance the cause and can likely get back to the person who is the subject of the conversation. Another example is actually an act of omission. This is where we know someone could perform better if we offered our assistance, but we decline to do so. Finally, the entrepreneur who is constantly critical about everything someone does is certainly not building them up.

The central premise for how we go about building others up is really quite simple. We think about how we would want to be treated and then do so for the other person. As long as we keep this foundational element front and center, we will be well on our way to being a positive force in the development of our team. Often this will require keeping our emotions in check. When things go off the rails do we automatically look for someone to blame? Or do we take a deep breath and look for the opportunity to coach? An added benefit is something else I’ve discovered. When members of the team don’t have to live in fear of making a mistake, they are much more likely to own it when they make one and much more inclined to share bad news in a timely and truthful manner.

Somewhere I read that we should offer five compliments for every one criticism. I’m not sure of the scientific basis for this ratio, but the intent makes sense. People always value feedback – especially when it’s positive. My middle school grandson is a case in point. All children at this stage of life tend to be insecure. I spend a great deal of time praising him for his accomplishments and encouraging him when he fails. Rather than be critical of his shortcomings I ask him how he might do something differently the next time. I make sure he knows that I believe in him and know that he can accomplish whatever he sets out to do. I’ve watched as he’s become more and more confident as he gets older.

The concept is no different with our adult team members. The more of a positive approach we take, the more likely we are to realize the right kind of results. This is particularly true with Millennial team members. We’ve found that Millennials place a high value on coaching and mentoring. This is a clear signal that the command and control managerial style of the past does not work for them. They are looking for a collaborative relationship with their teammates as well as their managers. And what a terrific opportunity this is for us to learn how to work on our “build them up” skills.

“Building them up,” means asking permission to offer constructive suggestions. It means making recommendations rather than issuing orders. It means explaining the bigger picture when assigning a project and it means making certain that the team member understands what value his or her participation brings to the overall effort. Accusations are out. Clear and direct communications are in. Brutal honesty is out and warm candor is in. Celebrating success and constantly expressing gratitude are definitely in.

When we look for ways to build others up our lives are enriched and our enterprises will thrive. This is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others and will leave permanent footprints in the sand that represent the time we spend walking this planet.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 118 – Celebrate Good Times.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Judgment Day

Question: Where is the fine line between constructive and negative criticism?

Answer: The very word “criticism” has negative connotations for many, so we’re starting from minus territory to begin with. Why? Because criticism is often associated with hurtful, manipulative language. Think about a situation where you feel like you’ve received negative criticism. How does a statement like this feel? “You really screwed up that presentation. You offended the client and couldn’t close the deal. I should have had someone else handle this assignment.” Wow. This sounds like a direct attack on you as a person. It’s no wonder that this type of criticism is not received favorably.

As entrepreneurs we must have thick skin in order to receive criticism of all types. And we must also be able to deliver criticism – but only in a constructive manner. First consider the audience. To deliver constructive criticism it must be perceived as constructive by the receiver. If this person is a highly resilient individual, your criticism may need to be offered more directly and bluntly. Conversely, someone who tends to be more sensitive may need to receive constructive criticism a bit more subtly.

Second, we must measure the intent of our criticism. Do we truly desire to be honest and constructive with what we have to say? Or do we want to send a message of disapproval in order to make the other person feel badly? Sometimes in our personal relationships – with a spouse or significant other – we may have a tendency to be less constructive and our criticism becomes hurtful.

Finally, constructive and effective criticism should always contain some suggestion for improvement. When this is done, our criticism can be perceived as helpful and positive. For example, the statement we read earlier could be modified as follows. “May I make a suggestion? The client may have been offended during the presentation because he thought we were ignoring his needs. The next time, you might consider spending a few moments reviewing the client’s specific needs and then show him how our product meets those needs.” There’s no mistaking that this is a positive and constructive dialogue and will most likely be perceived as intended.

Criticism should be focused on what someone has done or is doing, rather than the person himself. By being honest and appropriately sensitive to another’s feelings, criticism can be used as a positive and productive tool for improvement.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.